THE Church of England inherited traditional attitudes to war
which had been revived during the Boer War (1899-1902); so it was
widely proclaimed that war arouses patriotism, awakens the nation
from selfishness, reminds people of the precarious nature of life,
and makes people want to pray. Of the main Christian groups, only
the Quakers maintained a corporate pacifism, although in fact 33
per cent of Quakers of military age enlisted.
Many neutralists (who included the Bishops of Lincoln and
Hereford) changed their minds when Germany invaded Belgium.
Preachers compared that to Ahab's seizing of Naboth's vineyard (1
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York (Randall Davidson and
Cosmo Lang), Bishop Charles Gore of Oxford, the theologian Henry
Scott Holland, and George Bell (Davidson's chaplain, and later the
prophetic Bishop of Chichester) were among those Anglicans who
refused to be swept along by intense nationalism.
The normally cautious Davidson was prepared to be unpopular by
publicly rejecting reprisals, the use of poison gas, and hatred of
Germans. On the eve of the Armistice, he reminded the nation that,
when they prayed the Our Father, barriers crumbled: others prayed
"Pater Noster", "Notre Père," "Yes, and
Davidson, in the Lords, defended the rights of conscientious
objectors, and corresponded tirelessly about individual cases of
hardship. Several leading Anglican figures supported this
Others echoed the bellicosity of Arthur Winnington-Ingram,
Bishop of London, who said, in Westminster Abbey, that the nation
was "banded together in a great crusade . . . to kill
Clergy actively helped the war effort by working part-time as
special constables, car mechanics, and even in armaments firms.
They also ministered to the many bereaved at home. But they were
strongly discouraged from becoming combatants.
More than 1000 clerics became chaplains in the armed forces, and
111 of them were killed, or died as a result of the war. Whereas
chaplains of other churches ministered to their own adherents,
Anglican chaplains were expected to minister to everyone. Some 70
per cent of soldiers registered themselves as "C of E".
In crises, sacramental and ritual religion is more effective
than the plain word alone. But most who were "C of E" had been
brought up in Sunday school, not church, and so were not
communicants. In any case, it was widely believed that "communion
is for the gentry," which, in the army, meant officers, not
In 1914, prayers for the dead were uncommon, and particularly
repugnant to Evangelicals. By the end of the war, they were widely
used. On All Souls' Day (which began to be observed more widely) in
November 1914, Davidson spoke tenderly of praying for the dead as
"natural and helpful".
The war challenged faith, and powerfully accelerated pluralism,
secularity, and a belief in modernity. Yet the faith of some
survivors was strengthened so much that they offered themselves for
Many people were fortified through believing that the deaths of
soldiers were united with the sacrifice of Christ. The popular
picture The Great Sacrifice depicted a dead soldier with
his hand on the feet of the crucified Jesus.
The pressure to give women a new part to play in Church and
State was increased by their contribution to the war effort. The
Church, like the nation, believed that this war was a war to end
war, and supported the League of Nations and peace-making between
Churches through ecumenism.
Remembrance rituals combined the traditional and modern. The two
minutes' silence was communal, but could be used by individuals
differently. The addition of the reveille to the "Last
Post" could signify resurrection.
Sir Edward de Stein, a soldier-poet, framed the paradoxical
question that survivors asked after the Armistice: "How shall I say
goodbye to you, wonderful, terrible days . . . ?